bearing witness

In my own life, which has had an abundance of pain and trauma, I’ve had people very close to me tell me they couldn’t bear to hear a story, or perhaps they just withdrew in the midst of things and said they couldn’t bear it. As if I could! I couldn’t either, but I didn’t have a choice. And by telling me that they’re sorry, they couldn’t bear it, they are putting me outside humanity, in a way, though I doubt they realize that.

There is a photo in the media of a small dead boy in the surf, a refugee child, and many people are upset because the picture is there. Because they have to see it, because it’s too upsetting. IT IS! When I look at it I literally become unable to breathe. I have to turn my head for a moment so the hard lump gets out of my chest and throat, so I can take a breath eventually. That little boy, face down in the surf, could be Oliver in a different world. It’s excruciating. And people make all kinds of sophisticated arguments about the picture — it’s voyeurism, it’s unethical, it’s not doing anything but upsetting people, etc.

Does looking at the picture accomplish anything? What is served by my looking at it and getting so upset that I can’t breathe? It doesn’t put money in the hands of organizations and people who are able to help, that’s for sure. So what is the point?

I can bear witness. I can know what’s happening in the world, I can see that people are dying left and right in an effort to get their families to safety. By not turning my head, or turning the page, I can bear witness. It may be all I can do, but I can bear witness. I can know. The knowledge hurts. Since we have a little boy in our family it’s not a theoretical hurt, it’s specific. The little boy that we have seen in the surf is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands of people who have died. Adult men and women, young people, children, babies. And that doesn’t even count the people being murdered, the reason all these people are fleeing.

Why the picture? You could just read all the articles and learn what’s happening. I don’t know about you, but I have not read all the articles. I have not read many articles. I’ve had a vague awareness based on headlines only. But that picture forced me to know.

What does it mean if I turn away and refuse to look, refuse to know? Doing that means I privilege my own delicate sensibilities and put my fingers in my ears and say la la la la la!! I say, “Well, I know enough.” And maybe you do know enough! I’m just talking about me, and thinking this through. I’m sharing it here in case it’s something you hadn’t thought about, and perhaps you want to think about it, too. To ME, refusing to look is like living in the smoke shadow of a concentration camp and turning your head away, stuffing rags in the cracks of the windows so you don’t have to see it, smell it, know it.

My bearing witness means those people’s suffering is seen. They’d much rather have a home, food, safety, but not having those things and having the world turn away because it’s too hard to see, how AWFUL that is. Bearing witness feels like the absolute least I can do.

OandP090215The father of the little dead boy is the only surviving member of his family, and he has said that “the world has nothing for me now. I just want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.” Me, I get to see Oliver whenever I like, I get to hold him and laugh, watch him toddle away to chase a dog, carefully pick up bites of cheese quesadilla or watermelon. Me, I get to see Katie whenever I like, be in the presence of my daughter, talk to her, hug her. I get to talk to Marnie whenever I like, and see her when I can. If something happens, I get to go help them. If they need something, I ache if I can’t help them because they are everything to me. And if I lost all of them, I imagine I would feel just like that poor father. How can I decide it’s just too hard to look, and just hold my kids and grandson as if that’s the whole world?

It’s very hard to look. It really is. It’s so hard it makes me hurt, physically. It makes my chest hurt. I can’t catch a breath. My eyes fill with tears. My whole body aches. I can’t stay sitting in my comfortable chair, I tear my eyes away and stand up and pace, not seeing anything as I wander around my comfortable home. And eventually I can breathe again, and when the story comes up in the news, or the picture — and others — present themselves, I take a deep breath and prepare myself and bear witness. It’s the least I can do.

really not morbid #2

crete interior9
Obviously not a picture of the drive I’m describing! No way I could take a picture of it…..

And so we were driving along on some little dusty, rocky road on another mountainside in Crete. As was so often true, the mountain had slid onto the road and the rest of it looked like it could avalanche down at any second. The only space left to drive was on the outer edge — no guardrail! — which clung with a wince to the side of the very steep mountain. For hours I drove in first or second gear, and sometimes really needed a gear lower than first. On the rare straightaways, I’d glance up at the looming rocky mountain, crumbling visibly, eyeballing the boulders as best I could while I had a second.

So I said to Marc, “Are you always expecting at any moment that you’ll die?”

The guy is dark, first of all. Gloomy. Expecting the worst always. His people were Eastern European Jews, and he carries that historical burden in the furrows of his heart. Never forget who you are because they don’t, his explicit training as a kid. The worst, always, just waiting. But his answer to my question was a shocked, “No! I never think that! Do you?”

And me, the generally sunny side girl, the easily blissed-out person who cries with the breeze, I’m always sure that boulder is going to suddenly crack off the face of the mountain and land right on my head! The tires will give out on the curve. That oncoming car on Riverside Drive is going to careen right toward me and take me out and I’ll never have seen it coming. That heavy pulse in my carotid? Dead stroke, probably now, this will’ve been my last moment. These thoughts aren’t just sitting silently in my subconscious, they aren’t brought out only when I see the mountain slid onto the road, they aren’t present only in difficult times. I think these things all the time. And I think this goes perfectly together with the fact that I am the generally sunny side, easily blissed-out person. Cause, meet effect.

As the thoughts live in my head, the fullness of them goes like this:

A boulder/avalanche/stroke/drunk driver could kill me right at this moment! NOTICE THE CLOUDS! I could die in the next second, LOOK AT THAT BEAUTIFUL FACE! If I were to die right now NOTICE HOW THE AIR SMELLS! Look at the beautiful sky, what an incredible world this is, how wonderful he is, she is, they are! How precious it is to have the chance to be a person here, to be part of the mud that sits up and looks around, as Vonnegut put it. What an incredible chance, notice it! Notice it, see it, watch it, relish it, love it, smell it, feel it, savor it, all of it! Right now, this is the moment, right now! NOW!

It’s terrible to be here sometimes. It’s excruciating sometimes. It’s cruel. It’s indifferent. It just is, whether we like it or not. We notice those things, we dwell in them, and sometimes they go on for a long, long, long time. I’m evaluating a book set in WWII and immersed in the extraordinary cruelty of man, after witnessing lots of leftover rubble of bombed-out buildings from WWII in Crete. Cruelty. I read stories of German soldiers marching the Cretan men into the ocean and shooting them. Horror. It’s terrible. Babies die. Mothers anguish. Nuns sell babies and lie to the separated mothers and children (I watched Philomena on the flight home). Terrible, cruel, horrible. Little kids are stabbed to death in elevators in Brooklyn on the way to get ice cream, random and for no reason. Horror. Today the evil “other” is this group, tomorrow it’s that. One day I might be in the “other” group and I’ll be killed because of it. Who knows, I don’t and you don’t. But today the sky is very very blue, did you notice it? The sun turns those new leaves into brilliant spots of young green that are so light it’s almost hard to look at them, did you catch it? I caught it. I caught the light through the curtain, I caught the kids laughing as they passed by, I caught the headache that is squeezing me and making me frown, I caught the way I wasn’t breathing right — take deep breaths, breathe! Hear. Smell. Look around, what’s that?

That is everything. This second, this breath, that moment of awareness, this glance, that thought, the air on my skin, the smile given to me, the smile I give back, the awareness of others, this is everything.

pokey

This doesn’t seem morbid to me, at all. It doesn’t seem dark, it doesn’t seem heavy, it doesn’t seem dreadful. I wonder if it seems that way to you! Instead, to me it seems like the only real reason to cherish the moments. It helps me remember to notice, it reminds me that it’s precious, extraordinary. You are extraordinary, you are precious, you matter, I’m glad to know you, I’m glad to be here, I’d rather have less of the awfulness but who wouldn’t. Breathe, see, notice, relish. Just for now.

being a knot

What a couple of days it’s been for people I love. A simple procedure for one friend unexpectedly revealed tentacles and now the world is very different for him and his wife, and for all of us who love them. An easy Sunday morning for another friend suddenly went blank and now there are tests and uncertainty. A third friend was preparing an Easter dinner to share with friends and family and the knife slipped pretty badly. The world turns on a dime.

Of course this is the downside of loving people. When you overlap with people, when your hearts mingle, your life can be cracked and even shattered when something happens to them. It’s no longer just yourself, just your family. It’s a wider world, more opportunities to have the rug pulled out. That’s the inherent risk in love and we all know it and we go along happily, we all do, expecting this little thing to go that way and be done, Sunday morning to lead seamlessly into Sunday afternoon, preparation to end with a meal shared by loved ones around the table. We all expect to see that friend at the party next week, to hear about the grand adventures of that couple we love, to relish hearing his stories and laugh, her adorable accent, again and again. Of course we will. But there is no of course.

And so again it’s time to relearn the old lesson. Cherish the invisible things, the things you don’t think twice about. Hey, my legs work! Both of them! Wow, I can see anything I want, how amazing — and hear whatever I want, too! What stunning gifts. I can go to the bathroom all by myself, what a luxury. I’m reasonably sure that the next couple months of my life are not going to be spent in the misery of a caustic treatment. Remember how great it is that your hands work. Be thankful every single time you remember something, even if you’re kind of forgetful in an ordinary way. Cherish the very real treasure of your memories — your own, and the ones you share with others. CHERISH THEM! They are treasures, never to be taken for granted. And how amazing it is that I’m bored lying here so I can just get up and go do anything I want. I can walk into the other room. I can get in my car and go wherever I want. I can cook myself a meal, I can read a book or watch a movie.

I’ve mentioned my daily gratitude email thing before. Like everyone, I have some really low days, days when everything seems all wrong, either kind of shitty or maybe SUPER shitty. When I lose track of things, when my perspective gets all wonky. On those days my little email arrives and I sit, staring at the screen, unable to think of a damn thing to be grateful for. (Most days my struggle is to just pick a few out of the ocean of things I am grateful for.) Now it’s time to re-remember this lesson, and on those low days I can easily say that I am grateful that my legs work, and not feel like I’ve just written something dumb so I don’t miss a day. I can write with deep gratitude that I am so very grateful I have eyes. All these things that are invisible to us until we lose them and we suddenly realize how precious they are.

And that’s just looking at the universe of my own working body. I have a grocery store nearby with so much food, so many kinds of food, I forget to be dazzled by it. (And I have enough money to buy food, also dazzling.) I have a television and the Internet and so I know what’s happening in places I will never see — and I know what those places look like. I’m so very extraordinarily lucky to have seen much of the world, so all those places belong to me now. Myanmar is mine, what a mind-blowing wonder is that. I know about the water cycle and can look at the clouds and see how part of the world is working. I know about chlorophyll and so I can look at trees and understand how that part of the world works. How incredible is that? I live in a place where the ground blooms with gorgeous wildflowers, as if by magic, to make us all happy for a while — fields of blue, hillsides that are coral and orange, sides of the highway shining yellow and pink. What a world, and I rarely give it a second thought.

Of course I’ll forget all this again, this insight will be like the wildflowers, blooming now while it’s raining but the sun will come out and life will keep going and this knowledge will go into hiding again, ready to bloom when people I love are at risk.

netI’ve written before about my idea of the net. As I said then, look at that image, see all the blank spaces? The net is mostly open air, mostly empty space. What holds it together, what holds you up and catches you when you fall, are the tiny, tiny, tiny little knobs, the tiniest little things, but there are lots of them and they connect. A net, a network, enough to save you if necessary. I am just one of the little knots in the net underneath my friends, nothing more, but how grateful I am to get to be one of those knots. How fine a thing it is to have the chance to help someone when you can. I think it’s probably the finest thing we do as people, submit our own selves and hearts to care for others. To be willing to suffer alongside them, to be willing and glad to not know what’s next with them, so they don’t have to not-know all alone.

For the first six months of 2012, my husband was undergoing such harrowing treatment, pure hell. There was some question of whether he would survive the treatment itself. Not everybody does. I hope never to go through that again, but I am so deeply glad that I had the privilege to do that with and for him. I say this without any kind of patting myself on the back, because I think it’s just a glory of being human, but helping him through that is without a doubt one of the finest things I have ever done in my life. In that case I was almost all the knots in the net, and the parts connecting the knots too. I hope with all my heart that my friends are going to prevail and come out on the other side with stories to tell, with brand new ways to empathize with people. I feel such enormous gratitude that I get to be a knot.

how it ends

not sure what Marc's grandpa name will be. He is a Russian Jew, but Russians call their grandfathers Dedushka, which seems a stretch here.
not sure what Marc’s grandpa name will be. Maybe Saba, which is a Jewish ‘cool grandfather’ name.

When Marc was here a couple of weekends ago, we were talking about him as Oliver’s grandfather. He talked about Katie’s dad as the grandfather, and said he can’t compete with him. I laughed, of course, and said there is no competition, that Oliver is just blessed with six grandparents, a modern family. So Marc said, “Well, maybe I can be the one who talks to him about death and impermanence.” That is SO MARC. It made me laugh, and I said yes, you can be the one who does that. He said someone needs to.

Marc is Jewish, but he’s Buddhist (aka JewBu). He meditates a lot on impermanence, after a lifetime of thinking about and fearing death. He remembers being a very little boy sitting in his closet being terrified about death, and believing, therefore, that nothing has any meaning. Like me, he read a little too much Camus as a kid.

I think about death too, not at all in the same way he does. Unlike Marc (though he may have changed his views by now), I think it’s death that gives our life a way to have meaning. Two days ago I had two pretty intense experiences thinking about death, which is unusual for me:

  1. You know how I like to think about the way everything is seamlessly connected to everything, that there are events on the road ahead of me, already on their way to me, and I am unaware of them. Some are inevitable and some may easily change course. I am on someone’s road heading toward them in the same way. The day before yesterday I was driving on the highway and suddenly wondered if I would be doing anything differently if I knew I was going to die later in the day. It felt absolutely true in that moment, not just an idle thought. Well hell yeah, of course! I’d be spending those hours with my family, telling them how much I have loved them and how much they have meant to me. But you know, I also have to make a living. I’d rather not have spent most of my last hours reading a crappy manuscript, but there are things we just have to do. I was thinking about the trite thing people say, the very thing I thought, “If you knew you were going to die tomorrow….” but it isn’t that simple. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep in mind that tomorrow might be our last day so we shouldn’t waste today.
  2. That night I woke up in the middle of the night, like I always do, and started reading. Like I always do. I wasn’t feeling upset about anything, worried, unhappy, and I didn’t feel bad physically like I sometimes do in the middle of the night. My tummy often hurts when I wake up. But that night I was just reading the book for my book club, and all of a sudden I became gripped with a fear of dying. Just caught in the clutches of existential terror. All I could think was that I love my life so very much, I have so much to love, so much joy, so much to do, each day I love it so much and I don’t want it to end. I think that’s happened to me only two other times in my life.
Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

It probably won’t happen, but I might die today. Odds are seriously against it, and thank heavens for that. I’m just going to be at home all day and night, not going anywhere, and I’m in good health as far as I know. But just in case, know that I loved my whole life. Every little bit of it, the beautiful and horrible and sublime and ugly. I’ve loved so many people and have cherished the love from people in my life. I’ve noticed sunrises and sunsets. I’ve laughed myself into tears as I drove into the desert. I’ve dearly loved books and poetry. I got to wake up. I’ve launched three people into this world who are making it a better place, and now there is another member of my family in this world. I started as Pete and I will end as Pete.

I’ve seen so much of this beautiful world and it often made me cry with happiness.

  • With an overfull heart, I stood in front of Notre Dame, in Paris. I drove through yellow fields to see the cathedral at Chartres. I took the train through the Chunnel, and another train to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
  • I drank beer in a pub called ‘Jude the Obscure’ in Oxford, England.
  • I slept on a boat in the middle of Halong Bay, in northern Vietnam, amid the karst pillars. They were eerily beautiful at dusk and dawn.
  • I sat in a little boat in the middle of the Ganges in Varanasi and watched the nighttime ceremony to put the Ganges to sleep, I watched cremations, and then I watched the morning puja.
  • Standing atop Macchu Picchu, I saw a sudden and enormous flock of green parrots appear and fly right in front of me, and a heart-shaped hole open up in the clouds behind them. I panted in the thin air of Colca Canyon and watched condors glide on the air currents, and I rode a boat across Lake Titicaca.
  • I fell off a bicycle in Amsterdam and was stared at by a stern Dutch man.
  • I ate an amazing waffle with chocolate and strawberries in the Grande Place in Brussels.
  • I’ve snorkeled off the Yucatan so many times, and off Honduras a couple of times.
  • I saw Ireland with Katie, my pretty green-eyed Irish girl. We seriously underestimated how long it would take us to drive from Derry to Belfast — on July 12.
  • In Dubrovnik, I learned how to see where the war destroyed the buildings by understanding the various colors of the tile roofs. I was surprised by Zagreb.
  • I rode a boat down the Mekong River in Vietnam and drifted among the floating market boats, guided by a man who fought as a soldier for the south — “on your side,” he told us. A very small Hmong woman held my hand and led me over rocks in Sapa, in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border.
  • So many wonderful Lao people greeted me with Sabaidee, and I learned that I love BeerLao. I fed monks in Luang Prabang, and ate enormous feasts in an alley lined with food vendors, $2 for a huge plate and a giant BeerLao.
  • One Thanksgiving I stood in front of Angkor Wat waiting for the sun to come up.
  • I saw proboscis monkeys on Borneo, and a naughty macaque stole Marc’s drink.
  • Standing in the great hall of the Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, I cried because I never thought I’d see it. I stared up at the brilliant mosaics I’d studied in an Art History class in Alabama.
  • I rode in a very quiet boat on very still water in Inle Lake among the stilted houses of Burmese people.
  • In Oaxaca I got food poisoning.
  • I bathed a pregnant elephant in a river in Sri Lanka, and chased a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean.
  • I drank some java on Java, and fought off monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud, in Bali.

My beautiful life has been a creative act and I rarely took it for granted. I have felt like the luckiest person in the world. I hope the very same thing is true for you, in whatever form your life has taken.

the other side

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home, real fire and brimstone stuff. The sermons kind of emphasized how terrible and worthless we were, the songs all sounded like dirges, and hell was as real as the hard pews that bruised our tailbones (because cushions are not mentioned in the Bible). In fact, and this is one of my favorite stories, when we were kids my sister and I played church. This meant getting a little cup of juice and a saltine, and passing the cracker back and forth, breaking off a tiny bit and putting it in our mouths while looking as miserable as we possibly could. That was the realistic bit. It wasn’t about the cracker or the juice, it was about the misery.

emptinessOver time I completely lost my faith and came to believe in a random universe, and then I spent some years as a Quaker, and now I’m probably appropriately called an agnostic. I just have no idea. It’s hard to say no to any possibility — my own daily life has taught me that, in spades. So I have no idea, though my default stance is mostly atheistic. I mostly believe that when I die, I am dead. That is that, the end of it, no more. To the degree I live on, it’s in the lives and memories of those who knew me, who came from me. Just about the only belief I do have is that my childhood lessons about what heaven and hell are like were all wrong. I don’t believe in those ‘places’ at all.

I love my life. I love that I get to be here, that it is so beautiful and terrible and thick and joyous and sorrowful. That there are so many places to see, experiences to have, people to love, things to do, pleasures to relish, and pain to grow from. I love all that. I don’t want my life to end, and of course I know it will. When I think about facing that final moment of leaving, it fills me with terror even though I haven’t been able to say exactly why. When I cross that threshold, my thought is that I will simply be no more, so it’s not as if I will “know” anything, it’s not as if I think I will be experiencing anything after I make the transition.

And then I read this line in The Death of BeesOne lovely character has this thought, addressed to his dead partner:  “I hope to die in my sleep, Joseph, not knowing, just closing my eyes and forgetting the things I am leaving behind. I don’t want to die with my heart breaking.” And THAT is it. That’s the fear, that’s the terror. To be dying with a breaking heart, to be clinging desperately and clutching the door frame. My Aunt Charlotte died like that, screaming that she did not want to die, and that just haunts me. What a horrible death. I am afraid of that. If it happened right now I would feel that way. NO NO NO, I do not want to die, I am not ready.

What a funny place to find myself, after spending periods of my life trying desperately to die, or hoping it would happen. Life is long, as Ishvar says in Rohinton Mistry’s gorgeous and heartbreaking book A Fine BalanceIf you’re lucky. If you are lucky, life is long and you travel on so many paths, most of which will be surprising, and if you are very lucky, like me, your life gets better and better and better. I hope with all my heart that my life is so long I get to learn what it’s like to be a dusty old great-grandmother, for a couple of generations of children to call me Pete. And I hope that when my time comes, I am graceful.

And on that note, happy Wednesday, y’all! 🙂  What a strange juxtaposition!

Grace Louise

A year ago today, Katie delivered little Gracie, her full-term stillborn daughter. It was just a knot in the umbilical cord, and I haven’t yet been able to figure out if that makes it even worse. Some days it feels like it does. There was nothing wrong with Katie or Grace, she would’ve been perfect, fine, alive.

It’s been a hard year. My own grief is probably 80% for my dear, dear daughter and her terrible loss and suffering, but there is a very potent ache and suffering for the loss of our little Gracie. Her quilt and Christmas stocking remain unfinished, and I think that’s such a good metaphor for this lost member of our family. Perfect and beautiful, but unfinished.

Gracie shows up most often in my dreams. In fact, a couple of nights ago I had a dream that was very clearly about Gracie, and I woke up in such terrible grief I was crying. But today we are all remembering October 21 of last year, the biggest tragedy my little family has experienced, by far. My divorce from my kids’ father was wrenching and devastating, but we all lived. It pales in comparison to this.

I don’t have anything new or insightful to say about our family’s loss; I’ve grieved and grieved over this past year, and witnessed Katie’s and Trey’s ongoing grief and efforts to find their way forward. The sharpness of the grief has lessened for me, into something like a dull ache that can still stop me, but I don’t experience that every day. It comes in waves. Three weeks ago I was putting groceries in my car at the supermarket and got hit by such a powerful wave of grief and anguish, I had to stop and get in the car and burst out crying, clutching the steering wheel to steady me. It lasted for five minutes, and then I continued putting away the groceries. It’s like that. Grief is an animal that has its own life and it takes up residence. It hibernates sometimes, but it’s still and always there, waiting for you.

And so today I can only acknowledge this one-year anniversary, and honor the memory of our little Grace Louise. We all loved her so much. I didn’t write a post on this day last year, obviously, but I wrote a lot in the 10 days afterwards. This post, written the night before I left to return to New York — never dreaming of the devastation that awaited me — is the most ‘popular’ post I’ve ever written. It has been shared widely, it received a lot of comments and caused so many people to write me private emails, and it’s received the most hits of anything I’ve ever written. It’s titled ‘notes from the mother in the middle of the night‘ and I think it really captures the moment in a way that is true and honest. I cannot read it without crying.

Poetry is such a comfort, and in the days around our loss I posted a good bit of poetry. Sometimes the comfort is nothing more than a clear articulation of the formless feeling that haunts you, but that is a comfort. I just found this one, and it speaks to the effect of time, how easy it is to forget, and how awful it can be.

GRIEF, by Stephen Dobyns

Trying to remember you
is like carrying water
in my hands a long distance
across sand. Somewhere people are waiting.
They have drunk nothing for days.

Your name was the food I lived on;
now my mouth is full of dirt and ash.
To say your name was to be surrounded
by feathers and silk; now, reaching out,
I touch glass and barbed wire.
Your name was the thread connecting my life;
now I am fragments on a tailor’s floor.

I was dancing when I
learned of your death; may
my feet be severed from my body.

Today I am also flying back to Austin so it’s a difficult day in so many ways. Tomorrow will be better. I know it will. xo

what would YOU miss?

ubud8I read a little article over on ElephantJournal.com that asked what makes life worth living. Well, that’s one of my favorite questions to consider! Maybe it’s one of my favorites because I’ve got a jillion answers. Maybe if I couldn’t come up with an answer it would be one of the most dreadful questions in the world. So many days, when I get my late-afternoon email asking me to pause and note what I’m grateful for, it’s hard to answer because there are just so many things. And I can’t write them all, but they’re all bulging and pressing on me, and how can I just pick? They’re all so wonderful.

But this is a little different question, isn’t it? There may be overlap, surely there will be (the things I’m grateful for certainly make my life worth living), but some of the things that make life worth living are just those exquisite little moments, come and gone so quickly even if they’re as sweet as a drop of honey on your tongue. So aside from all the things I’ve been writing about lately, all of you, all of my life, the brilliance of it all, these things make life worth living.

The smell of dirt. The smell of rain. The smell of rain splashing on really dry dirt. Storm clouds back lit in an unnerving way. Electricity in the air. Shadows. Fresh lemon and lime. Stretching out on cool sheets. The moment I wake up but don’t have to get up yet. Katie’s little giggle. Hearing a favorite old song surprise me. Opening the door. Closing the door and locking it. A full refrigerator. Opening an old book and having something fall out.

“Hi Mom.” Embraces and smiles. All of us on our knees, facing it together and holding each other through the heartache. When the lights go down in the theater. A very warm breeze moving in my hair. The black sky full of stars. The changing moon. Autumn color. The day the light shifts and the season changes. Chocolate on my tongue. Beans and cornbread.

Chopping a bunch of vegetables. Stirring the soup. When the phone rings Saturday morning and it’s Marnie. The bright blue sky. Clouds, always, always. Sunset with someone. Kisses. Arms around me when I need them most. Him stroking my hair when I’m feeling low. Turning off all the lamps at night. Whispering. Dancing alone in the living room. The feeling like flying when you’re on a bicycle. When the airplane lifts off, and again when it lands.

Looking at the earth below when I’m flying. Watching the landscape fly by when I’m driving. Seeing my son walking toward me in his loping way. “Hey ma.” Color, all of it.  Anticipation. Amazing carrot cake. My sweet life. The air on a summer night. Christmas lights glowing in the dark. Meeting someone new and just knowing they’ll be deep in my heart. Old friends. Plans of any kind. Love. Even love lost.

That’s my list as it occurred to me in a stream of consciousness way. It’s fun to think about all these things — I suddenly realized how very much I would miss these things if my life were ending. And since it’s not, I can give them all the attention I have now, today, whenever they happen. Enjoy your beautiful Sunday and all the moments, even the ordinary ones. xo

gravity

The best thing about going to the movies in Austin is the Alamo Drafthouse. (My New York friends, there’s a Drafthouse in Yonkers, but they’re going to be opening one on the UWS, watch for it!) Basically, it’s a great theater where you can order dinner, snacks, ice cream, beer, wine, all kinds of stuff, at your seat in the theater. The location nearest my house actually has decent food; they make the hamburger buns and pizza dough by hand in the theater. Huge lists of beers (one location has a brewpub on site), nice wine list. It’s an event. They also organize themes, like a whole day marathon of The Lord of the Rings movies with theme meals provided throughout, that go with the movie. They play sing-a-long movies; Marc and Anna and I went to an ABBA sing-a-long a few years ago and the audience was standing up, singing along and dancing. It was really such fun.

Before they show the previews, they show all kinds of old clips that go with the movie. So, for instance, before Gravity they played old clips of space movies, astronaut movies, some super hilarious ones. Then they showed all kinds of little clips of people falling — oh, that crazy gravity! It’s really fun. And my favorite thing is that they are serious about people turning off their phones and not talking. Take my word on that.

GRAVITYLast night I saw Gravity. I was eager to see it — visually it looked amazing, and I loved the music in the trailer because it’s one of my favorite pieces (Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt, the link goes to YouTube. If you don’t know Pärt’s music, consider this a beautiful introduction.).

So I was eager. Visually stunning, beautiful music, and the concept. Or rather, the bit of the concept I inferred from the clip — what would it be like to be adrift and alone in space? The absolute aloneness of that, the vastness, and just you? My mind can’t really present me with anything, I go blank and silent. But I love to be put in that story and encounter the possibilities.

I’m no huge fan of Sandra Bullock (a travesty for an Austinite! We talk about going to “Sandra’s restaurant;” she and her sister own a couple of popular places here in town, and she lives here). I’ve never found her to be a subtle actress, she’s fine just not my favorite. And Clooney, I knew he’d be Clooney. And he was, down to every twinkle and rapscallion tale.

Visually it was stunning. The first half hour or so I sat there with tears streaming down my face. That scale, it’s just the most beautiful thing there is. I looked at our beautiful planet and thought about how utterly tiny my little troubles are. I’m somewhere invisibly down there, twisting and turning, flailing and feeling terrified, and it’s nothing. It’s just nothing.  The entire span of my life is just nothing. The world is unbearably beautiful and it goes on and on and it follows its orbit on and on and it’s just a nothing too, in our little galaxy which is a nothing in our universe.  And visually it made me feel just a tiny little whiff of what it would be like to be lost up there. I couldn’t breathe easily, I felt terror and a bit of horror. The first part is a single shot, unbelievable, the cinematography is breathtaking. I can’t say enough about the first part of the movie. It sets up the question.

There was a scene in the movie that made me cry for the story part of it — a scene where Bullock’s character believes she is facing her death and speaks of her fear, knowing that she will die that day. And who will mourn her, and who will pray for her? Will anyone? (That’s not a spoiler, by the way….it’s just a scene along the way.) It was a very honest scene, and it got to the nub of it as I expected from the movie. I cried throughout the scene, not because I wonder if anyone will mourn me, I believe people love me and would mourn me, but because I know someone who is so isolated and this is his agony. He thinks no one will even come to his funeral when he dies. It’s heart wrenching. But also it made me cry because it focused all the preciousness of life on that moment, the fear of facing that last moment and knowing it’s the last moment. Oooooof the air leaves me.

It was an OK movie; the part that set up the question was amazing, but the part that answered the question was not so great, in my opinion. It won’t be a classic like 2001, it will probably do well enough, I won’t want to see it again ever, it was flawed enough to miss the very best mark, but it was OK. It was worth it for the first half hour alone. See it in 3D, and on the biggest screen you can. It’s showing here at an IMAX theater in 3D and I’ll bet that’s pretty cool, but I wanted to go to Alamo.

I’d kind of cooled off about the movie on the way home, and as I sat to write this post. But then Marc called and I was telling him about it and got entirely swept up again by the images and the question, by the power of that opening. It’s amazing. Do see it.

And here, in case you didn’t click that link to Spiegel im Spiegel, I’ll give you the video to make it easy. It’s really a gorgeous piece of music. Happy Saturday, my darling friends. xo

[embedplusvideo height=”350″ width=”604″ editlink=”http://bit.ly/15NwEL9″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/B8qg_0P9L6c?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=B8qg_0P9L6c&width=604&height=350&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=” id=”ep8126″ /]

psst . . . he’s right over there

Much earlier this year, I was quite often terrified about my future. I’d lie awake in the middle of the night watching a non-stop stream of terrifying what-ifs run through my mind:

  • What if I have a stroke and can’t do this work? What would happen to me then?
  • What if I get cancer and can’t work for several months?
  • What if something happens, an accident, and I can’t work?

ETCETERA.

In every case, it was not at all about what might happen to me but entirely about the dreadful possibility that I may become a burden to my kids, all of whom are kind of squeaking by, financially, as they get their lives off to a start. At 2am, that’s what I’d be worried about.

A dear friend helped me in a dramatic way and the end result was a deep reminder that I’ve always taken care of myself, I’ve always found a way, even though my life has most often been quite difficult. When I lived in New York with Marc, setting aside the emotional parts, the practical part of my life had never been easier. I’d never been in the financial position we were in; it’s not that we were wealthy, but money was never a worry. For the very first time in my life, I didn’t run out of money before I ran out of month. I could pay all my bills, which were shrinking, to boot. It wasn’t a strict requirement that I balance my checkbook at the end of each month because there was more than enough money in it. I’d never had a penny of savings before, and I’d certainly never had any investments. But there, I did. It’s hard to go backwards in any regard, and having to relearn how to be worried about month and money is not fun at all. I’m not living on the edge right now, but I don’t have the luxury I had in New York. But big deal: I can reorient myself and remember how to live in my new way. It’s my very own beautiful life!

deathFor the last several nights, I have not been able to sleep. Generally, I sleep from ~1 until about 3am, and that’s it. So the other night I was awake in the middle of the night and kind of poking at this fear, trying to think it through, understand it a little better. Of course I do not want to be a burden to my kids, and I’ll do all I can to give us all the best shot for that not to happen, but I laughed when I realized something. What’s the worst that will happen? I will die! That literally did make me laugh out loud, alone in my house in the middle of the night. I will die! Yes I will. And no amount of preparation or planning will change that, and I will die no matter what I do. Everything short of that is just something to figure out. And I know how to figure things out, and even if the options aren’t great, it’s all just something to figure out. Unless I am totally debilitated and require 24-hour care, I can figure things out. I have a very large network of friends I could call on for all kinds of help to get me through rough patches, I have a lot of people who love me — how lucky can I be — and if the penultimate worst happened (with the worst being death), I have my precious children who I know will help me as much as they can.

Death, ha ha ha. I don’t want you to be hanging around me for a few more decades (like maybe 5 more, deal?), but otherwise you don’t scare me. *whistle whistle whistle*

terror magnification

magnifySo here’s the deal. You know what you’re going to do today, right? You’ve got the day planned out, mostly, and you’ve got a calendar with appointments for the week, maybe for the month. You’ve got those plans with friends over the weekend, and then the kids are coming home next month. You need to run to the mall, and there are big plans for the holidays this year.

And you’re just living your life, not hurting a soul! You’re a good person, you try to help when you can, people count on you, there would be a hole in the world if something happened to you. Maybe a giant hole, maybe a bigger hole than you even imagine.

So you take care! You look both ways before you cross the street, you try to eat well [enough] and get [enough] exercise. You avoid dangerous places, you keep an eye on your surroundings. You don’t go to the bad side of town alone at night, you avoid dangerous places in the world when you plan a vacation. You make sure your loved ones know that you love them. Now, though — and it was true before yesterday but the Boston bombings bring it back to our foreminds — we know there is no way to avoid dangerous places, because any place is a dangerous place. That’s the nature of terror, to make every place, every moment, potentially dangerous. We’re having to live with it though people around the world have lived with it every day for decades. Decades. Ordinary people, ordinary moms and kids, dads, students, young people, old people, markets and coffee shops, people just going about their business. Sheer horror.

I’m thinking not about the horror of the deaths and destruction, the lost legs and arms, the damage that might never be repaired, but I am thinking about living in a world where this happens. What is it we fear? Death, obviously. Being so wounded that we’re never the same again, that our lives have to change. Never knowing what to expect, never being able to just live without fear, never being able to live as if it’s all under our control. Living in an unfair world.

But aren’t those things already true? They are. It’s all true, even if there were no terrorists. However you want to organize it, life/the universe/whatever is kind of a terrorist. You can just be walking along and BAM! your brain explodes in a stroke and if you are lucky enough to survive, your whole life can be changed entirely — internal terrorism. You can just be walking along and a car can careen out of control and plow into a crowd on the sidewalk, maybe you die, maybe you are paralyzed, maybe you survive and your children die. Unfair, death, destruction, damage, unexpected, fear, no control. Unfair. Really, really unfair. If you think about the worst thing that has ever happened to you, it was probably unfair. Gracie’s death — unfair!! The things that were done to me as an innocent little child — unfair!! Really, really, really unfair. My friend’s major stroke, entirely unfair. Death, loss, unexpected, fear now in the wake, no control, unfair.

Terrorism adds the variable of intent, which somehow, to our minds, makes it all worse, makes the unfairness worse, makes the death and damage worse, makes the expectedness worse, makes the fear worse. But why? Why does it? Why should it? I think it just gives us a person or entity we can hope to punish, to exact revenge, and that gives us the illusion that the world is fair and that there is some control to be had. But we know this: the world is not fair, it rarely is (and when it is, it’s really just an accident), and there is only so much control to be had (and probably not as much as we like to think).

Terrorism magnifies the fact of ordinary life, bringing potential death and destruction to the forefront of our minds in a potent way. But what can you do to protect yourself? Look both ways. Avoid obviously dangerous places. Eat well and exercise. Keep loved ones close. Be sure the people you love know that you love them because you never know what might happen and this may be your chance.

So: I am grateful for you, I am grateful for my life, and I love you and it and every last bit of it, even a world in which this kind of thing can happen. Here’s an utterly gorgeous poem called “I Say Yes to All of It”:

everything that was broken yesterday
remains that way today

i have fixed what i can and the rest
is the life i have chosen

or sunk into
shoulder high

and i’ve yet to flail my hands

i am still
and silent

i was listening for something
for the longest time

and then i forgot how to speak

this isn’t mud i wallow in
but rather
the exquisite change pain of life

i no longer wait to be rescued

there are stars
or rain on my face

clouds
or blinding blue skies

crows chatter on the line
i used to talk through

there is a bluebird just now
warbling a love song

there is earth pressed tight
against my heart

winter ate me whole
and spring will spit me back out

this clay will all turn to dust
and my feet are already

bare

ghats

In the fall of 2006, as a slightly delayed honeymoon trip, my husband and I traveled to India. I’d always wanted to go to India, so it was a dream fulfilled. I remember coloring maps of India in elementary school; the shape of the country became burned in my mind while I colored oh-so-carefully within the lines. When I grew up, my favorite authors were Desi — Rushdie of course, but also Rohinton Mistry, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra — and my dreams were embroidered in those rich colors. Also, Marnie went to India when she was a student at Smith College, and it was particularly meaningful to her (and she was the first big traveler in our family), so I was eager to also see Marnie’s India.

And we hated our time there. It’s the only such trip we’ve ever taken. Every single night, for the more than 2 weeks we were there, I dreamed I was being torn apart by wild dogs. In my dreams, I’d jump to the top of a building and the wild dogs would follow me, tearing me apart on the rooftop. I’d climb trees and they’d tear me apart. My dreams really captured my experience of being there, of being grabbed and harassed, of being lied to constantly (“no miss I cannot take you there, that shop is closed/it is a holiday/I am taking you here instead”), of being plucked at and tugged on. It was relentless. Afterwards, people asked me if it was about the poverty, shaking their heads in dismay, but it was not about the poverty. There is terrible poverty in other places we go in SE Asia. It was crushing, being there, and it smashed and destroyed my dreams of the place. Fair enough. My dreams were child dreams, literary dreams, the dreams of a silly little white girl, privileged beyond belief.

The only exception was Varanasi, on the Ganges. This was a place Marnie had been, so I was especially eager to see it, and it was . . . I don’t even know how to describe it. Here’s how I described it when I was there, and there are some photos in that post.

If you are lucky, in India, you get to a place like Varanasi and die there; it’s an exceptionally holy place. If you can at least have your body taken there for cremation, that’s also quite good. On this ghat, we witnessed five cremations later that night, and it was word-stopping. We sat in a small boat, in the middle of the Ganges River under a full, huge moon, and watched. People were busy, milling around, paying little attention, tending to this ritual that’s a part of life and a very good thing. The untouchable people tend to the fires, and when the fires die, they sift through the ashes and retrieve gold or whatever other precious things remain, before pouring the ashes into the holy Ganges, where people are busy bathing and performing pujas and other daily rituals of their lives.

It’s a worldview I know little about (obviously, if you do and see how badly I’ve missed the edges of this), and it was difficult to be a witness, sitting there in all my white-girl-Americanness. I wished I understood it better, I wished I had some of what they had, a sense of the cycle of it, a sense of the cremation as a meaningful piece — just a piece — of the whole. When we were first driving into Varanasi, our taxi driver pointed out a stretcher on the side of the road covered in bright cloth and a growing accumulation of flowers; he said “there’s a dead body, they’re taking it to the ghat to be cremated.” There’s a dead body, not someone’s dead body. They’re taking it to the ghat, not him or her. The person was gone. I was simultaneously struck by the impersonal distance — the “it”ness — and by the deep wisdom of that understanding.

My little granddaughter Grace’s body is being cremated this morning. I wish I could be there, and I wish there were flowers, and water nearby, and the smell of very special woods, and the smells of life, instead of a cold American crematorium. But it’s all the same — she is gone, she came and went and left us with things we will cherish, things we don’t even know yet, and this is just her little body, nothing more. And I say that, and it makes me shake with the jarring wrongness, because her little body is all we ever got to know of her. Although that’s not true, either; Katie knew her for her whole life, and Katie knew that she was a quiet little girl, not rambunctious, a little hiccupping girl. Katie held her and loved her for every moment of Grace’s existence, from beginning to end. Katie, an extraordinary mother, held her and loved her and will see her daughter through to the very end.

This is the final huge hurdle, today. We’re mostly coping by not thinking about it too closely, and by trying to figure out how to mark the day, to honor the day in some way. And we’ll be crying.

misperceptions and how-tos

This part of our life has taught my family a lot of different things, and many have been wonderful. People suffer with you, people want to help, those you least expect are often the most touching; brittle bits drop to the side because it turns out we all know what’s most important. There have been great experiences to relish in the midst of such pain and suffering. And here are a couple of misperceptions we’ve encountered:

  • When a child is stillborn, immediately before birth, do not lump it in with miscarriage. This is the death of a child, but painful in a different way because we didn’t get to hear her cry, learn her laugh.
  • Surprisingly to me, and to Katie, the tangible things aren’t as gut-wrenching as we thought. We come across little socks, we go into the nursery, and it’s sad — oh definitely, it is sad — but it’s not nearly as sad as we expected it to be, because she never wore those socks. That room wasn’t her room. It was prepared for her, but she never lived in it. We finger the little socks we find, stuck to clean laundry, but they don’t make us cry too hard. The real grief comes in other ways. 

So many of you helped us and we noticed, even if we have been too lost in our shock and surprise to comment. If you wonder what helps, for future situations, here’s what has helped us:

  • Simple acknowledgement — and in ninja fashion, too. There aren’t any words, we already have learned that as we’ve tried to help each other. We don’t expect you to say the magic phrase because we know there isn’t one. If you acknowledge what has happened, we feel comforted and less alone. The ‘ninja fashion’ bit is that we are dazed, in disbelief, and cannot engage in lengthy conversation. The last thing we can do (sorry) is take care of you too; we’re doing all we can to keep breathing. So when you acknowledge what has happened and do not linger, we feel the simple comfort and it helps us keep breathing. Thank you for that.
  • Cards and flowers are lovely, and they’re really just material manifestations of your simple acknowledgements. We have vases of flowers all over the house, and they’ll wither pretty quickly because we don’t have it in us to care for them, to extend their fresh lives. We open the door, we sign the delivery, we take the vase and look around for a place for it. We read the card, we are touched that you thought of us. Someone thinks to add your name to the list for thank you notes, one of these days. The air smells sweet from all the flowers.
  • The huge extra step of food, in this day and age — especially in a situation like ours, where there isn’t a great big funeral with dozens of people coming back to the house bringing food. When we got home yesterday, about as bereft as people could be, a delivery man brought giant pans of lasagna, spaghetti with giant meat balls, rolls, salad, and dressing. All we had to do was open the containers and fill our plates. It was amazing, and a huge, huge blessing — especially to me. Taking care of everything in the background has of course fallen on my shoulders — the mom, the adult present — and trying to figure out meals for everyone all the time is its own stressor at this time. So just once, not having to do that, was like having a mom come by for me. And we have leftovers. One of Marnie’s friends sent giant pans of macaroni and cheese. I have to say, these gifts of food were wonderful and I’ll do the same for people in the future. The food deliveries were ordered by people living in Connecticut, and in Chicago, delivered to us here in Leander, TX. What a world, and what a gift.
  • Tiny tiny touches, just single-line notes “I’m thinking of you today.” I was stunned by how much those tiny touches helped me. I didn’t need to respond, nothing was asked of me, it was just a tiny reminder that I am in someone’s thoughts and prayers. And there were many of these each day, so it was just so warm. I’ll do this for others, too.

Here’s what does not help:

  • Forcing your particular beliefs on us, or telling us how we should be thinking about things. We are not religious, and we do not mind if you pray for us, but if you want to lecture us in any way about how you see things, what your framework is, what you think Grace is doing, why this happened, you simply make things worse. Since we don’t think that’s your intent, please know that it feels this way to us. Your thought is surely not “I’m going to force my beliefs on them” but rather (we assume) you are trying to help us. We have our own framework, and we are grappling with this in our way. Prayers are welcome, preaching is not.
  • Don’t tell us that there will be other children in the future. We know that (we hope for it, anyway). It does not comfort the loss of this beautiful child.
  • IF the exact same thing has happened to you (so, if you’re my friend and your daughter suffered a stillbirth; or if you’re a friend of my daughter and you have suffered a stillbirth), telling us that you understand can be helpful as long as you don’t take the opportunity to go all up into your own story. But if your niece had a miscarriage, or if you knew this guy once whose girlfriend had a child who died, please don’t tell us you know how we feel. I promise that you only know how we feel if the exact same thing has happened to you. And even then, maybe you don’t, just as we don’t know what you felt in the same circumstances. 

Marnie and Will are gone, now, back to their homes, and when Trey’s family returns to their home tomorrow, we’ll be down to the work of trying to figure out how to live, now. It’s cold here in Austin, and gray, and my spirits are low today.

how do you do the next thing after this?

A couple of nights ago, Katie asked Trey before they went to sleep, “How does it get better?” And I loved that specific question, because of all the ways she might have worded it, that version contains the possibility that it can and will get better. There’s a possibility. How do we get there. We can’t see it now, we have no idea how to get out of this terrible room, and if and when we do, we’ll also have to figure out how to feel ok that we left the room……but we think there is a way out.

There are so many layers to moving on. The least important layer is a social one, a kind of pressure that (at this point) isn’t coming from anyone external to me but only from my worries — at some point people will be real tired of hearing about this. It’s awfully soon to even have this thought, and right now it’s nothing more than a thought, a tiny point of anticipatory awareness. Another layer is guilt, obviously; gosh, here we are laughing?! Seriously?! Does that mean we cared so little? How could we be laughing at a time like this — or that, or the next, or the next. Partly because we’re in the lull between things — the funeral is Friday at 10, and there’s not much to be done now but wait for it — I find my mind drifting to other things. I haven’t been able to read, but in Myanmar I read seven books and I’d like to talk about one or two of them here. Right now, the impulse to write about other things is all I have; when I sit down to do it, I just go blank. But one of these days I’m going to be ready to write about other things. As someone wrote me in an email, you get tired of FEELING so much.

Moving on will include allowing there to be other babies in the world, other mothers and fathers of little ones. Moving on will mean being able to see their joy, to ask how the baby is doing, even to be excited over all the little moments. When friends have babies, they won’t balk to tell us, they won’t whisper about being sure not to mention this to them. Then, I guess, we’ll be back in touch with the excitement we all felt. Before. And boy are we not there yet, of course. But one of these days we will….right?

Trey will go back to work, one of these days. He deals with people who are unhappy with their custom installations — first world problems if ever there were any, and so pale next to his pain. He’ll have to do that. Katie will go back to her pre-Grace life, with the beautiful nursery upstairs and no longed-for and deeply loved child tucked into the pretty crib. I’ll go back to New York and try to let my dreams of Grace swim and float away, settle down into the recesses of my beating heart so I can carry them around a little more easily. We’ll laugh again, a few seconds here and there, a longer patch, maybe even a carefree Sunday afternoon. We’ll bear our way through the upcoming holidays, and then 2013 will start. We all have keepsakes, little photographs, notices from the newspaper, cards and condolences, impressions of her footprints, and we’ll find special places for those things so she’s just right there with us in some way as we move on to the rest of our lives.

I’d posted this poem by Ellen Bass here a few weeks ago; it’s explicitly about grief, but I’d found it meaningful in some other context. Here, though, it fits squarely with grief and moving on, our looming and thoroughly impossible-seeming task:

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.

No one is spared the experience of death, and almost no one gets away without feeling grief in the face of it.  Even as we secretly think, yeah, but you got to at least hold your baby and hear her cry, or well, at least you just miscarried so early, or at least you got to have your child with you for X yearsor well we all expect to lose our parents/grandparents/friends so at least that’s “normal,” the fact is that death is absolute and shocking in its foreverness, and awful and isolating, no matter what. The most horrible part of it can be that life simply goes on, and that we will, too. 

it all can change in a single moment

​My little granddaughter Grace has died. She was just 8 days away from her due date, and for as-yet unknown reasons, she simply died. Yesterday morning I received the unimaginable call from my poor sweet daughter, for whom this is unimaginable-er still. I am flying to Austin, leaving for the airport in less than an hour, and will arrive during my daughter’s labor. My other children are coming too — Marnie arrives half an hour before me and we’ll go to the hospital together, a blessing, and Will arrives tomorrow morning. At least we will all be together for the next stunning days.

I tried to get a few hours of sleep but I just lay in the dark, listening to people laughing on the street — so hollow for me — and my husband snoring, and finally I just got up. While I feel utterly alone, I know I am not. Friends rushed to me yesterday, words of love and comfort have surrounded me, phone calls and emails and texts and messages, all from people who love us and who tried to find words even though there are none.​

Love Sorrow
Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.
~Mary Oliver

The next days will be among the hardest in my life, and I’m so grateful for all the love around me, and for all the love my family has for each other. Grateful for having had the opportunity to love this little girl with all my heart for almost 9 months, grateful for the hours I got to spend thinking about her while stitching her quilt, and knitting her stocking. Grateful for the little peeks I got at her beautiful profile, from the ultrasound pictures. I hope I get to hold her, and I hope Katie does, for her sake, though it will feel impossible in a way I cannot imagine.